I write this blog to serve notice to our readership that J. D. Greear’s new book Gospel (B&H, 2011) is an explosively powerful little book that expounds the gospel and its implications, and does so with a rare combination of depth, clarity, and eloquence. Gospel is one of the few unique books that will be sold by the truckload to pastors and churches, colleges and seminaries, young and old, Arminian and Calvinist.
Now, to put my cards fully on the table, I’m an elder with JD at The Summit Church and have been friends with him since we were college roommates, but I assure you that the comments above are not exaggerations, and this blog is not extended piece of unctuous flattery. As a general rule, I’m more than happy to point out JD’s foibles (e.g., when he used a 357 Magnum to try to kill a mouse in our rental house in college), but for the purposes of this blog, I’m happy to say only one thing, and say it clearly: if you have not yet read Gospel, buy the book and read it.
JD agreed to a brief interview with BtT, which I have reproduced below.
1. JD, tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry.
I have the great privilege of serving on the pastoral team of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. I love being in this area because of how close it is to some of the world’s greatest educational institutions: Duke, UNC, NC State, NC Central, and, of course, Southeastern College at Wake Forest. We believe Raleigh-Durham could be one of the great sending-hubs of the evangelical church, a modern-day Antioch. God has given us at the Summit Church a big vision of seeing 1000 churches planted from our church around the world, with another 500 right here in RDU.
I am married about 50 feet over my head to Veronica, and I have four ridiculously cute kids: Kharis, Alethia, Ryah and Adon.
God has also given me a real passion to see the Muslim world come to faith in Christ. I did my PhD work at SEBTS on Islamic soteriology and wrote a book on that theme afterward called Breaking the Islam Code.
2. What was the impetus for writing this book? And why did you feel the need to write it?
Quite simply, I think the gospel has been eclipsed by “good” things in much of the Christian world. I think that is true even among conservative churches that have built their identity on faithfulness to the Bible, such as our own Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t think this happened through a hard-right turn into liberalism, but by slowly letting other things-again, usually good things-overshadow the gospel. The predominant message given in most churches concerns what we should be doing for God-learning the Bible; going to small group; going overseas; caring for the poor; incarnational missions-all good things. The predominant message of the Bible, however, concerns what God has done for us. It’s not that we should not be doing those things for God, just that the power to do them comes from standing in awe of what God has done for us in the gospel. We grow, Paul says, as we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The irony is that the more we focus on the things we are to do for God, the less power we find to do them. Christians “laws” are like railroad tracks in that they tell us what direction to go but give us not power to get there. I want readers to tap into the source of things like radical generosity and audacious faith; a source that will not inspire them for a season, but sustain them for a lifetime.
3. What is the primary argument (thesis) of the book?
The secret to growth in the gospel is that we grow more when we focus less on what we are to do for God and more on what He has done for us. Fruits of the Spirit like joy in God, peace with ourselves, audacious faith, and radical generosity come not by focusing on them, but by abiding in the love of God for us (John 15:5-8).
The great commandment (Matthew 22:37), you see, poses us with a dilemma: we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. But how can true love be commanded? True love arises from the desires of the heart. Being commanded to love God when you really crave idols produces weariness, resentment, and even hatred of God. I know; that described my Christian life for several years. But what the law cannot do, the gospel does wonderfully for us. The gospel creates in our heart a love for God that leads us to seek Him because we want Him; that makes us seek righteousness because we crave righteousness. And how does it do that? Not by commandment, but by announcement: the gospel overwhelms us with the news of God’s great love for us. We love Him, the Apostle John says, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). In other words, only an intimate, felt awareness of the love of God for us produces a love for God in us.
4. What, above all, do you wish for readers to know and/or do because of the book?
I want them to return to the glory of the gospel. I want them to see that the gospel is not just the entry rite into Christianity; not only a prayer they prayed to begin the Christian life; not just the diving board off of which they jumped into the pool of Christianity, but the pool itself! I want them to see that all the resources to live the Christian life flow out of the glory of the gospel. Ultimately, sin problems are worship problems, and the gospel changes the worship cravings of our heart. That’s what makes the gospel different from religion.
I built the primary section of this book around a 4-part “Gospel prayer,” I wrote first for myself, and then for my church, to help them saturate themselves in the gospel daily.
Here it is:
(1) “In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”
This speaks of the “gift righteousness” of the gospel and goes to war against the incipient works-righteousness hardwired into our hearts.
(2) “Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.”
This speaks of the value of God’s presence in our lives. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is your possession; it’s another for that approval to have such weightiness in our hearts that our captivity to other idols is snapped.
(3) “As You have been to me, so I will be to others.”
This part of the prayer has us consider the extravagant generosity of God toward us. His generosity toward us leads us to radical generosity toward others.
(4) “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”
This part helps us view our world through the lens of the gospel. Seeing the compassion and power of God revealed in the gospel produces bold, audacious faith in our hearts.
Again the gospel’s revolutionary “secret” is that things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel.
5. How much did you have to pay Tim Keller to write the foreword?
Ha! Yes, Keller told me that he doesn’t do a lot of that anymore. But I told him that my book was “simultaneously better than he ever imagined but more in need of his endorsement than he’d ever dared hope.” That won him over.